American Dominance is Waning
A Look Into The Decline of American World Order
What controls the world? What allows global political environments to achieve and keep stability? What are the rules that govern the world? This would be the world order.
After the end of the British empire, America became the leading country in the world, so much so that they, very arrogantly and boastfully, proclaimed that they are the leader of the free world. For decades this was accepted, begrudgingly at times, to be true. America very much did lead a liberal hegemony of the western hemisphere. America did in fact provide much of global trade, security and facilitated multinational cooperation.
This American world order was built and maintained with the use of hard and soft power. Though, historically hard power was used the most. America’s order was largely supported by America’s large economy and superior military might, the might that allowed them to bomb, invade and sanction countries they did not like. However, America’s ability to exercise its powers has drastically decreased within the last two decades, due to the challengers such as China (mainly China) and Russia as well as changing social values.
America previously dominated the world in trade in 1990 with 22.47% of global exports, accounting for more exports than the entire East Asia & Pacific region. This trade dominance continued for the following two decades. However, America has lost its hold of that very dominance.
During the last decade, China has made massive progress and by 2019, surpassed America in exports by more than half a trillion dollars to become the leader in world exports. Thus, previous world dependence on America for much of its trade, with America’s increasing decline in export dominance, has plummeted and dominance has shifted towards China.
NIC’s Global Trends 2030 Report projects that China’s economy will surpass America’s within the decade.
The need to be on “America’s side” for the purposes of economic benefit while still present, is drastically reduced. There is the possibility of some American allies realigning themselves with China is present. It is also possible that some American allies may become neutral in a US-China conflict.
In terms of military might, after the collapse of the USSR, America was unchallenged . However, currently, while America still has the most powerful military force, many world powers have amassed military power that America cannot afford to overlook, China and Russia in particular. For comparison, below are the military ratings of America, Russia and China with 0.000 being the strongest according to Statista.
- America- 0.072
- Russia- 0.08
- China- 0.086
In modern times, nuclear weapons are the most powerful force of a countries’ military and are a sign of military might. In this regard, China does not seem as great threat when compared to its neighbour Russia. China has only 280 nuclear missiles compared to the US’s 6450 missiles and Russia’s 4850 missiles. However, it is important to note that because nuclear weapons are so powerful and destructive, they are a migrating factor that pressures nations to cooperate, in fear of mutually assured destruction. While China does not have a large nuclear stockpile, China has the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program.
Many of these missiles have enough range to threaten many US allies and interests in Asia, moreover, some of the missiles can reach North American soil. This high-tech arsenal allows China to possibly pose a greater security threat to the US than Russia because countries are far less likely to enter nuclear warfare than using ballistic missiles. For instance, if China uses ballistic missiles against US allies in Asia, the US may not even be able to support its allies. If this were to occur, the US would lose the trust of its allies and China may be embolden even more.
Moreover, countries such as North Korea and India, which do not have as powerful militaries, also have significant military influence due to their nuclear weapons. These military challengers have severely reduced America’s overall ability to provide global security.
For instance, actions such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 has greatly damaged the western security order. Furthermore, as nations develop their military capacity, many nations' reliance on America for security diminishes. As more powers rise economically and militaristically, weaker states need not accept America’s rules whether out of fear of domination or abandonment by the US.
American Ideology and Values
America’s dominance also expanded to ideologies. As part of its world order, America pushed its ideology of liberal democratic capitalism which was deemed as “common sense”. However, America’s world order was not nearly as benevolent or kind as the American narrative implies. The American world order was not consistently liberal, whether it was supporting authoritarian states, like Saudi Arabia, or intervening in countries such as Vietnam.
Furthermore, one way America disseminated its ideology of democracy and capitalism was through direct intervention in many countries, using its military power. America “bestowed freedom” on countries such as Germany and Japan to create the capitalist democracies that they are today. By spreading its values, America got other nations to align with its order. However, in recent years, with the realization of the distorted American narrative, the liberal order has weakened significantly, due to decreasing trust in capitalism and democracy.
Hence, there has been a change of values as America’s “freedom” is no longer perceived as freedom. This is especially seen by the injustices which resulted from the uneven human rights record America has with African-Americans and women. As a result, America has lost much of its moral superiority; and Marxism, the main ideology of China, has risen in prominence in the West, challenging the order. Among American youth, socialism has risen to be as popular as capitalism, being viewed positively by 49% of millennials in 2019.
Consequently, social movements in the West have also increasingly adopted these ideologies, having lost faith in the current American system, in the face of perceived illiberal injustices. For example, a prominent movement, feminism, has many supporters and leaders who view capitalism as an oppressive force, subverting women’s rights and many within the movement view socialism as the system to correct gendered injustices. Journalist Ellie Mae O’Hagan framed the ideologies in this way, “Just as gender inequality is a necessary condition of capitalism, socialism is a necessary condition for the genuine liberation of the majority of women”. In addition, Rachel Paneth-Pollak, a leader of the D.C chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said “any feminism that doesn’t challenge capitalism feels, by definition, inadequate”.
These changing values have since reduced America’s geopolitical influence and America is no longer held as a shining beacon of liberal values and morality. For instance, during 2020, America’s adversaries delighted in its appearance of being below the human right standards it requires others uphold (Bernstein, 2020). Thus, with the changing values and the loss of its moral superiority, America’s ability to use soft power to maintain its order is severely waning.
"When I think about these [George Floyd] protests, I see it as a reflection of our declining soft power, I think where we have slipped is our ability to make other people want to be like us" - Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba, a professor of international studies at Rhodes College
All in all, the rise of challengers such as China and Russia, who have amassed great military and economic power, has greatly limited America’s ability to utilize its hard power to maintain the order. Moreover, the scrutiny of America’s liberal narrative, society’s changing values and ideological shift has lessened the attraction to the order, diminishing America’s ability to utilize soft power. These two faces of power, hard and soft power, were crucial in the construction as well as the maintenance of the order. Hence, with the decrease in America’s ability to use its power, it is clear, that the American world order is in a state of decline.
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